Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Bowing down lifts you up

(2.23) To these oceans of good qualities,
I offer a melodious ocean of praise.
May a chorus of sweet-sounding melodious verses
Always ascend to their presence.

(2.24) To all the Buddhas abiding in the three times,
The Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly,
I prostrate with as many emanated bodies
As there are atoms in all the worlds.

(2.25) I prostrate to the bases for generating bodhichitta,
To the images of Buddha’s body, speech, and mind,
To the Abbots and Preceptors,
And to the supreme practitioners on the path.

People usually have a lot of difficulty with prostrations because it seems quite bizarre.  When people first come to classes and they see people doing prostrations it seems weird and cult-like.  But when we understand what is going on, then it is in fact very beautiful.  Prostrations should come naturally as our respect grows.  For people we respect we naturally relate to them differently.

To prostrate means to sweep away all impurities and defilements and request all good qualities.  We request that all impurities and defilements that obstruct our attainment of the good qualities of our Spiritual Guide are removed, and we request that we attain these good qualities ourself.

The main point when doing prostrations is a genuine recognition that what we are prostrating too has superior qualities that we want to attain ourself.  It requires humility to admit that we have much left to do.  By paying respect to these good qualities we increase our admiring faith, which naturally transforms into wishing faith, which naturally transforms into effort, which then gives us these good qualities ourselves.

What are we really prostrating to?  The Spiritual Guide.  But  The Spiritual Guide is the synthesis of all three jewels.  All three jewels are an extension of the Spiritual Guide.  The Spiritual Guide is our own future enlightenment – our own pure potentiality fully developed.  We are not really prostrating to anything external, but rather to our true self fully realized.  When people understand this, they have no problem with prostration.

When we physically do prostrations, we usually place our hands together in the gesture of prayer and then touch our crown, forehead, throat and heart.  When we touch these four places, we need to recall what causes it creates, and feel our prostrating is creating these causes.  We should mentally want to acquire these abilities so that we can help others.  If we don’t do the mental work of generating wishing faith in this way and we simply touch these four places mindlessly, it is essentially meaningless.

When we touch our crown, we recall that a Buddha’s crown protrusion symbolizes his faith in his Spiritual Guide, and we wish to generate such faith ourself.  When we touch our forehead we recall that a Buddha’s hair curl at his forehead symbolizes his ability to see all of the past, present, and future directly and simultaneously, and we generate the wish to have such an ability ourself.  When we touch our throat, we recall that the speech of a Buddha has the power to liberate all beings from samsara.  And when we touch our heart, we recall that the mind of a Buddha is the actual refuge of all living beings, is omniscient, has universal compassion and has perfect skillful means to help others.  Physically we touch these four places, mentally we generate wishing faith to acquire these abilities ourselves so that we may better serve others.

There are three types of prostration:  Physical, verbal and mental.  Physical prostrations include doing full or half-length prostrations, or even just respectfully touching our palms together at our heart.  Verbal prostrations primarily include reciting praises.  Reciting praises is essentially a practice of rejoicing.  Whatever we rejoice in, we create the cause to obtain ourselves.  Mental prostration is our generating faith and respect.  There are three types of faith, believing faith, admiring faith and wishing faith.  We believe in the good qualities of the Spiritual Guide, then we admire these as fantastic, this leads to the wish to have these good qualities ourselves.

We should practice prostration all day long.  When we are with our fellow Sangha, we should see them as holy objects of refuge and make the three types of prostration.  Physically, we can just be respectful with our body.  Verbally, we can praise them and their example.  Mentally, we can generate the three types of faith with respect to them as an example, their good qualities and so forth.  We can do the same thing with everybody we meet, always relating to their good side.  This functions to draw out their good qualities and enables us to easily cherish them as precious.  A simple yet powerful way to practice prostration all day long is to regard everyone as an emanation of the Spiritual Guide sent to teach you something or help you overcome your delusions.



7 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Bowing down lifts you up

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, so firstly thank you.

    My question is how do we get to this understanding, when we start conventionally by holding respect to our spiritual guide who is a person. Geshe-la always talks respectfully of trijang, so by thinking of our spiritual guide as our personal potential, are we doing any disservice to our spiritual guide (ie Geshe-la)? Geshe-la shows us the example of holding Trijang as his spiritual guide – does he not?

    Hope this question makes sense, I’ve enjoyed reading many of your articles – so many many thanks from me 🙏

    • I think you can keep it simple: he is our own pure potential fully realized and developed. When we mix our guru with our heart, what we are really doing is ripening that potential and drawing him out. We show the same respect Geshe-la shows to his spiritual guide to the guru at our heart. Then, no problem.

      • Something I find hard to grasp on the intellectual level, but I’m sure an experience we will attain by continuing to practice, especially hyt

  2. Hi Kadampa Ryan, many thanks for your beautiful explanation, your posts are an inspiration to us all. I am leading a discussion on prostrations from MTB tomorrow on TTP, here in CMK Lille (France) and your insights will come in very handy.

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